Premier League players under pressure: Fellaini, Hazard, Benteke
Big reputations, big problems. ESPN FC picks out five Premier League stars finding their futures uncertain as the January transfer window comes to a close.
Marouane Fellaini, Manchester United
The question of which manager might be working with the big Belgian at Old Trafford remains, yet Fellaini has been symbolic of the past two men in the United hot seat.
First he was David Moyes' sole signing (£27.5 million worth) of a disastrous transfer summer in 2013 and looked distinctly lost in central midfield. Under Louis van Gaal, he looked set for an exit even before the 2014-15 season started, only for an injury to hinder his sale. Yet, in the spring of 2015 -- which must now be remembered as the high point of the Dutchman's reign -- Fellaini became a useful performer, playing off the left-hand side of attack as a bulwarking weapon of attack.
A sending off at Hull on the final day of 2014-15 again derailed his start to the season, and when he did return, it was back to central midfield while his form returned to the base-comedy level of the Moyes era. His header might have set up Wayne Rooney's winner at Liverpool last week, but it remains to be seen whether Van Gaal, or whoever replaces him, will persevere with the player.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Twelve months ago, Hazard was English football's brightest button, the cutting edge to a Chelsea team headed for the title, and in the opinion of then-manager Jose Mourinho, heading toward the level of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Barring him leading Belgium to Euro 2016 glory, the Ballon D'Or podium is unlikely to be calling any time soon if Hazard's performances continue at the level it has been at this season. He has still yet to score a single goal for Chelsea and was used only as a substitute in Sunday's 1-0 win at Arsenal at the weekend, as he returned from a groin injury.
Hazard was not alone in under-performing for Mourinho as the manager plunged into a downward spiral, but his decline was the most striking, with a flashpoint between the pair as Hazard limped off at Leicester City on Dec. 14 in Mourinho's final game in charge, a snapshot of what had become a testy relationship. Transfer links with Real Madrid now seem fanciful, though a return to French football and PSG may tempt Chelsea to cash in their faded star to fund their next manager.
Nabil Bentaleb, Tottenham Hotspur
Mauricio Pochettino's team is bursting with youthful promise, but a player once reckoned to be his club's most exciting talent has been unable to force his way into the reckoning. Repeated injuries have not helped the Algerian international's cause, but his place in midfield has been claimed by Dele Alli and Eric Dier, two players seizing their chance to high universal acclaim. Meanwhile, Mousa Dembele has returned to prominence in a midfield unit that has been the engine of Spurs' success this season.
Last summer, Bentaleb signed a new five-year contract at a time when PSG and Juventus were both believed to have been interested in his signature. After struggling in a 1-0 opening day defeat at Manchester United, he was dropped from the starting XI, and suffered an ankle ligament problem straight after starting a 0-0 draw against Everton on Aug. 29 that kept him out until November.
Other niggles and the form of his colleagues have stopped him properly forcing his way back into the reckoning and fourth-placed Spurs may not require him much longer.
Pablo Zabaleta, Manchester City
"I think Pablo has been a very important player for this team and he continues now being a very important player. And I'm sure that in the future he will continue to be," City manager Manuel Pellegrini said of the Argentine right-back last week.
Yet City fans have had to get used to life without a favourite adopted son charging down the right flank in his usual style, as Bacary Sagna has become a fixture. Injuries have seen Zabaleta, signed in August 2008, play just seven matches all season for Pellegrini in all competitions where he would usually have been the first name on the teamsheet.
And with Sagna himself approaching veteran status (being 32 to Zabaleta's 31), City seem likely to make a move for a younger full-back which would put both under pressure.
Christian Benteke, Liverpool
The way things are going for Liverpool's £32.5m summer signing, he may end up being best remembered by the club's fans as the man who broke Jurgen Klopp's glasses during the maniacal celebrations that followed Adam Lallana's winner in Saturday's crazy 5-4 win at Norwich.
Klopp has forgiven him and will not be making him pay for the damage, but whether he trusts the striker to start in matches is a different matter. Indeed, Benteke's place in the starting XI for two FA Cup matches with Exeter City among a bunch of reserves and youth-team graduates was telling. In Liverpool's bigger matches, Klopp has instead trusted Roberto Firmino as a "false No. 9" and Benteke's understudy with the Belgium national team, Divock Origi, was considered above him in the pecking order before he suffered a hamstring injury.
That Benteke is still Liverpool's top scorer has done little for his standing. So far, he has proved a disappointing, and expensive, misfit at his new club.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.